Wanting feedback on your performance is human nature. No matter if you’re an athlete, a musician, an attorney, or a waiter, you want to know how you are performing in your role and how you can do better because ultimately feedback is about job security.
Good managers understand that giving feedback is ultimately a positive thing for their organization. There are many reasons for this, several of which we will explore below. But what makes feedback so important today is the change in workplace culture due to COVID-19. It should be no surprise that the majority of organizations have instituted remote working. That means more meetings via Zoom and collaboration using digital tools like Slack.
But this new normal also means a heightened sense of isolation among workers. They no longer can have casual conversations with co-workers, or organically pursue ideas that pop up during the day. More importantly, they no longer can have the relationship they once had with their manager. The pandemic has changed that relationship. Body language and eye contact is erased. Spontaneous meetings and chats are no longer a reality. All of which means regular, specific, and supportive feedback is more important than before.
For managers not used to relying on feedback as much in the past, here’s a breakdown to mastering feedback of a remote workforce.
Feedback is important on many levels, but there’s an art to delivering it so it is effective. You want the feedback to improve the worker, but also result in value for the organization. So being mindful of how feedback is delivered is important.
Acknowledge employee strengths and contributions. Feedback needn’t be negative. Before you meet with the employee, sit back and think about how they make the workplace better. Are they problem solvers? Do they mentor other employees? Are they willing to pitch in when necessary? Do they lighten the mood in a crisis?
All of these factors are not things you’ll find on a resume. They are human qualities that happen to strengthen workplaces. So go beyond their metrics and look at what they bring to the workplace in a positive way.
Ask them for their feedback. Ask their opinion about how a particular situation played out? Have them walk you through it, step by step. This will give you a sense of how they think, make decisions, and react to crises. After their story, ask them what they could use to make the process smoother. Have them tell you why they made the decisions they did. This will create a more dynamic conversation than one that simply goes down a checklist.
Share goals. Be transparent about where things are going in your department and with the company. Let them see the part their role plays within that. Make it clear the expectations you have each quarter and show how their current performance needs to improve – or not – to meet those expectations. The best way to do this is introducing the context of growth. They, and you, should want to grow together. So explain how their current performance needs to evolve in order to keep up with the company’s overall growth.
Of course, any feedback session will require criticism. Here we mean criticism that is constructive — meaning, helpful — not criticism that is belittling or threatening. Here are ways to shape constructive criticism during your feedback sessions:
Make it specific. Don’t be vague about how the employee is doing – get to the point. For them to improve they need to know exactly what to improve. Otherwise, the problematic behavior will likely continue, which isn’t good for you or for them.
Offer solutions. It’s one thing to critique their behavior, but it’s another to offer solutions on how they might improve. Don’t just leave it up to them. Point them toward mentors and other resources that might help. Provide examples of what you’re seeking in their role. This will help build trust and let them know you’re ultimately on the side of their success.
Never make it personal. Focus on what the employee does, not who they are. Show them that you’re not critiquing personal flaws. The reason is that you don’t want to make them think you’re making assumptions about who they are as a person. They may be behind on their work, but that might not mean that they are lazy. It could mean the workforce is understaffed or they aren’t given clear direction.
The benefits of employee feedback are many. Here are just three of them:
It improves performance. This may seem obvious, but for too many managers, it’s not. The more an employee learns about their role and what is expected of them, the more they will likely grow their skills and productivity.
It improves retention. Employees who are clear about where they stand with their manager, who are given resources to grow, and who are hearing feedback that is supportive and not belittling will more likely stay longer. Because a good feedback process ultimately shows an investment in their success.
It lowers costs. Less retention means having to pay more for recruiters and seeking candidates. Plus, there’s the downtime in the period when no one is in the role, and the lost time of onboarding a new hire. Providing regular feedback keeps people
Make it often. Make sure you have scheduled one-on-one time with every employee. Make it every month or every other week. This can be a casual check-in call to chat, but also to make them aware that they are not “out of sight, out of mind.”
Ask how they are coping. The pandemic is putting stressors on people in many different ways. Being remote, you may not have a clear sense of what your employee is going through. So open the conversation by asking about their family and friends, if they need a break and anything else to make it clear that you clear about their health, well-being, and safety.
Get their input. Again, transparency is best when it invites feedback. Ask workers what they want to change. Ask them what they will need that will make them thrive. Whatever it is, poll your workers for input. After all, they are as part of your company as you are, so when both sides work in tandem, remote working will only be easier.